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Rosso sangue (1981)
A brutal and disturbing second half.
While I've seen over a dozen of Joe D'Amato's films, this was my first foray into his horror films (unless you count Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, and his Caribbean Horror/Porns, which I have seen.)
For the first half of the movie I wasn't that impressed. But, the second half was relentless, suspenseful, brutal and agonizing. I've seen hundreds of horror/gore/splatter/slasher films, but the infamous 'oven scene' (which I won't spoil) had me literally covering my mouth to keep from making too much noise.
The rampage of the second act works well because the horror comes from the THOUGHT of what is happening, rather than the more visceral deaths of the first half. There is blood and gore, to be sure, but Joe D'Amato shows a modicum of restraint, letting the suspense build in a way it was unable to in the first act.
So, if you decide to give this film a try, and I hope you will, stick with it. Not only does the film really get going in the second half, the final shot of the film has to be one of the most unexpected, shocking and unexpected moments I've ever seen.
It's not bad...but it's not Anne.
Throughout this film, I kept asking myself: "Who let the air out?" The story did seem to go along like a balloon, hanging close to the grown, the air slowly seeping out. All the ingredients were there, fine performers, beautiful photography, an interesting story...so why do things still seem so amiss?
Had this film been a standalone story, with no connection to Anne Shirley, I think it would have been much better received. The tragic upbringing of young Anne was heartrending...but didn't ring true.
There were fine points to this film, to be sure. The final monologue by the middle-aged Anne Shirley, sitting on the veranda at Green Gables and writing, was beautiful:
"Everything that's happened in my life, the good and the bad, is more than I could have ever made up. I do long to write, and I will write about all of it. My life has been unexpected, exceptional really. Eventually, the more love a person gives, the easier it is to find. That's the only part that matters, nothing else. And it's so much nicer to be Anne of Green Gables than to be Anne of nowhere in particular."
That last line brought a tear to my eye, because it's full of so much truth. However, most of the rest of the film was flat in comparison. I shan't criticize Sullivan's deviation from the books, as he was not permitted to adapt any more of the novels (which was the right decision, given the debacle that was Anne 3.) Sullivan did, however, stay truer to the television "Avonlea" universe in this film. In the series "Road to Avonlea" Anne and Gilbert were married when Marilla died, however in Anne 3, she has long since died when the Blythes finally marry. There are no such plot holes in this film, thankfully.
Many of the performances in this film were quite good. I think Barbara Hershey was rather fine as Anne. Hannah Endicott-Douglas was an inspired choice as young Anne, at times bearing an uncanny similarity to Megan Follows in appearance and delivery. Rachel Blanchard, who I was mostly familiar with through her performance as Cher in the series "Clueless," has shown that she is quite a capable dramatic actress.
I have always admired and enjoyed Shirley MacLaine. In this film, however, she seems to be phoning it in. I was left wondering if there had been script changes she didn't like after signing on the dotted line. That is mere supposition on my part, however.
Sullivan's direction and writing, while adequate, don't really serve the performers well. There's a pitch to the performances that doesn't always ring true. It feels as if Kevin Sullivan kept asking them to make it bigger and bigger, until it was just TOO big.
Another issue I had with the film was the way the characters motivations were a complete departure from what had gone before. Anne as a liar...one can believe a child from such circumstances doing the things young Anne did to hide her painful background. However, this is simply not Anne. For all her faults, Anne's saving grace was her honesty. That is missing here. Also, Marilla hiding the letter from Anne's father was unbelievable. While Marilla may have been reluctant, she was a woman with a strong sense of duty and of right and wrong. It is the essence of her character, and that was disposed of without a thought.
There were a few interesting uses of stock footage in this film that actually work rather well. The Colleen Dewhurst footage was seamless, and quite welcome.
Jayne Eastwood returning briefly as the cruel Mrs. Hammond was well played. Eastwood recreated the vocal part of her earlier performance perfectly. We only see her in long shot, so she doesn't seemed to have aged at all. That was nicely done.
Patricia Hamilton's cameo as Rachel Lynde was most welcome, and it's good to know she and Hetty King are still going strong (however it is implied that Hetty King is standing next to Rachel, but there was no attempt to cast an extra that resembled Jackie Burroughs.)
Despite the serious flaws in direction and storytelling, "Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning" was an interesting, and sporadically entertaining evening of television viewing for me. While I understand what Kevin Sullivan was trying to accomplish, I really do think it's time that he put Anne to bed. I was never one of those fans who clamored for another sequel. I would have been happy if we had simply been left to imagine what happened to Anne and Gilbert after they declared their love on the bridge. I always hoped that it would inspire young and old alike to explore the books by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
Taken on its own merits, the film can be enjoyed, but only if one can divorce it from all that has come before in the Anne franchise.
Tail Spin (1939)
Entertaining Little Soaper
Quite a change of pace for an Alice Faye film. Gone are the glorious gowns and exotic locales, but instead we find our Miss Faye as an aviatrix, trying to make ends meet and win the Cleveland Air Races. Her arch rival is the society belle Gerry Lester, played with an arched eyebrow by Constance Bennett.
The performances are a bit overwrought, but that's part of the fun. Faye only gets one song in the final cut, but it's a great sultry number called "Are You in the Mood for Mischief?" Throw in an awkward slap fight in the powder room, a dash of tragedy, and you've got a fun cinematic soapie/tearjerker/stand up and cheer kind of film.
Basically an A-picture that plays like a B, with all the entertaining trappings that implies.
Joan Davis is great fun as the comic relief. Nice rainy-Saturday entertainment.
A Matter of Love (1979)
Pure seventies - not as good as it thinks it is.
Right out of pages of "The Joy of Sex" comes a dreary, although occasionally diverting, if overlong, exploration of swinging and marital strife.
The film plays out like a stage piece, with it's static camera-work and dialogue-driven plot. The score is pure 70's pseudo-porn, and the moralizing (or amoralizing) is true to the period but extremely tedious.
One thing that the film does have going for it, which sets it apart from other soft-focus sex films of the period, is the "regular folk" look of the performers. Also, Vincent doesn't shy away from male nudity, which is refreshing, as most films of the time feature women cavorting around naked while the men always seem to have sex with their pants still on.
Only a mildly-interesting slice-o-life from the deliriously sexually-open 70's. It tries to be a couples film, but it's not romantic enough for the couples market, nor bawdy enough for the grindhouse crowd.
Catch it if you enjoy copious views of breasts and male buttocks, but if you're searching for something more, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed.
The Ghost of Rosy Taylor (1918)
A rare glimpse into the Mary Miles Minter phenomenon.
Few films starring Mary Miles Minter exist, and even fewer are in wide circulation. Viewing this film, it's easy to see why Mary Miles Minter became such a star. She is lovely to look at and absolutely charming on screen.
As the other reviewer mentioned, the surviving print has some moments in absolutely dire condition. But Minter's talent and charm overcome this and make this rare opportunity to witness Minter's talent something no movie fan or historian should miss.
This film is also important because while many are familiar with the scandal that destroyed Mary's career (through no fault of hers, I might add,) few have experienced her first-hand, and this is a perfect example of Mary's charisma, and the style of silent film before 1920.
Mildly entertaining, if inaccurate, biopic of Shirley Temple
(May contain very mild spoilers.) This film is short and sweet, and does give a fairly decent overview of the young stars career in movies for those not previously acquainted with Miss Temple's amazing life story. However, there are occasions where the truth behind the events of her life are played down and personalities altered to suit the filmmakers' vision.
For one, Gertrude Temple was a remarkable, articulate, savvy and driven woman. She always kept a tight reign on Shirley and made sure that she had as normal an upbringing as possible under extraordinary circumstances. However, in the film, she is portrayed as an average housewife who just happens to have a famous daughter. The noble strength of this woman is certainly worthy of praise and truthful representation. Connie Britton does a lot with the little bit she's given to work with, and is as charming as ever. She is a fantastic actress who could certainly have handled playing a more accurate depiction of Gertrude Temple.
The rest of the cast does well, too. Some of the film recreations are quite well done, but I was surprised that Shirley's famous dance with James Dunn in "Stand Up and Cheer" was overlooked. Also, the recreation of Shirley's credit appearance in Baby Take a Bow looked nothing like the one in the original film.
It was nice to see Dorothy Dell portrayed, as the young actresses' tragic death prevented her from becoming the star she certainly could have been. It's nice to see her remembered and her look so accurately recreated. I would have liked to see James Dunn portrayed as well, as he co-starred with Shirley in more films than most people and was good friends with little Shirley.
Young Miss Orr does very well as Shirley, portraying her over a rather long range of years. Her rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" brought a tear to my eye. This young girl has quite a future ahead of her! The closing scenes of Shirley's career fading with advancing years is too brief, and the sudden change from young blonde to teenage brunette was rather jarring. The teenage years were one of the most eventful periods of Temple's life, and it would have been nice to see more of that. But, you can only do so much in 90 minutes.
All-in-all, not bad, but could have been so much more! A little too Disney-esquire, with the darker moments of Shirley's life swept under the rug, and an occasionally tenuous relationship with the reality of the world on the 1930s.
5 out of 10.
The Littlest Rebel (1935)
Talk to your kids afterward...
There are two very good opportunities afforded by this film. One, it's entertaining, fast-paced, and Shirley really shines.
The second is a chance to talk to your children about the way black characters and white characters interact in this film. Some younger children may be confused by the divide between the black characters and the white characters (especially those who attend racially-diverse schools,) but this is a good time to explain to them the racist attitudes of the time period, and ask them how it makes them feel.
The best way to combat racism is not to sweep it under the rug, but to teach children where we were, how far we've come, and how far we still need to go. Give children the credit they deserve, they will understand.
This film is a perfect opportunity to relate to your children and instill guidance.
What kind of film does "Emy Wong" aspire to be?
From the promotional materials of the time, "The Sensuous World of Emy Wong" (better known by the unfortunate title "Yellow Emanuelle") one would think Bitto Albertini (aka Albert Thomas) was intending to churn out another soft-core romp, similar to the films of Joe D'Amato. However, after the opening montage around the seedier parts of Hong Kong, viewers finds themselves in the midst of a very different kind of film.
This is not unusual with Albertini's work. His legendary "Emanuelle nera/Black Emanuelle" (1975) was essentially a melodrama, with lots of soft-core fondling thrown in to attract the grindhouse crowd. Albertini concentrates more on dramatic tension and melodrama then his counterparts, with mixed results in most cases, including "Yellow Emanuelle." On one hand, you've got Ilona Staller (who later became on of the more off-the-wall figures of Italian porn) and Giuseppe Pambieri engaging in much (simulated) sleazy sex, accompanied by Nico Fidenco's pornoesque score. On the other hand, the romance between Chai Lee's Emy Wong and Pambieri seems to come from another film entirely. It's sensitively told, the actors really seem to believe in what they're doing, and their love scenes are beautifully shot (including one in an unfurnished bedroom that is just this side of art.) The drama works on some levels, Chai Lee creates a sympathetic heroine, although her plight (which I won't spoil for you) seems a little contrived and out of left field. The television version deletes the entire ending subplot (which, again, I won't spoil) and actually works better. The original theatrical ending seems hurried and contrived, so much so that it's intended effect is replaced by a giant "Huh?" from the audience.
All-in-all, the film is enjoyable and beautifully photographed. Those who prefer their sleaze a bit warmed-over but with *some* dramatic oomph will enjoy this picture. Those looking for something a bit more sordid may want to look elsewhere, perhaps to Joe D'Amato's huge catalogue of sexploitation.
Swingin' Together (1963)
Works as a one-off...
...but I can't see it sustaining much interest as a series. There are too many principal characters (all broad stereotypes) to really develop much affection for any of them.
One exception, however, is James Dunn. Jimmy Dunn seems happy and enthusiastic with his role, which is always a joy to watch. Broad comedy being his forté, he acquits himself well here as the jovial father figure to the group of boys in his charge.
The band itself is pretty standard early-1960s fare, but nothing to really write home about. The title song is catchy, but soon grates a bit. The appearance of a young Stefanie Powers adds some historical interest, but beyond that it's not hard to see why this pilot failed to become a series.
Fans of Bobby Rydell, James Dunn or Stefanie Powers will find this enjoyable, as will aficionados of rare television.
The Baby-Sitters Club (1990)
Not as bad as all that...better as it went along.
Wow, some pretty strong comments on this show! Honestly, it's not as cheesy as some make out. Sure, it's not Citizen Kane, but for what it is, it's not bad at all.
First, I think the casting was great. I often found it unbelievable in the books that the girls were only in Middle School, considering all the things they were able to do (go to NYC at the drop of a hat, babysit infants, etc), so casting older actresses made the whole thing more plausible. Also, I think the actresses have been unfairly criticized, I think it was the writing that was a bit off, it was geared a little too young to be believable, not the writers fault or the actresses, just how it worked out. Also, those who have commented on the lack of television and film appearances of the actresses post-BSC should be aware that the majority of the performers on this show were from the stage, and many returned there after this series.
The series was much closer to the books than the film was, and the supporting cast did well. As the show progressed, it improved drastically. The performers had gotten the chance to get to know each other and develop a working relationship, and the story lines also began to embrace heavier topics, such as divorce and the destruction of our environment.
Good fun to revisit on rainy Saturdays, and something I will surely share with my own children if I am blessed to have any.